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Google Wants To Be Evil


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#1 eKstreme

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 02:48 PM

Via TC:

Last week, however, Google’s Marissa Mayer said “It really wasn’t like an elected, ordained motto” during an interview in Australia, adding “I think that ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is a very easy thing to point at when you see Google doing something that you personally don’t like; it’s a very easy thing to point out so it does get targeted a lot.”


Let me rephrase that for you: "Dang it, we want to be evil, so why don't you guys that remember "number 2" back off and let us do our thing without holding us hostage to something we've been living for and using as our backbone since we were a kid company".

I wonder what evil thing The Googs has in store for us to require weaseling and back-peddling off their motto.

Pierre

#2 iamlost

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 03:39 PM

I wonder what evil thing The Googs has in store for us to require weaseling and back-peddling off their motto.

Advertise your business on Google and their network: AdWords.
Let Google tie AdWords use with processing yoursales: Checkout.
Give Google your business listing to help them sell AdWords: Maps/Local.

Let Google tell you what to do with your sites: Webmaster Central.
Let Google tell you how to publish their AdWords on your site: AdSense.
Give Google your visitor data: Analytics.
Let Google tell you how to maximise their conversion of AdWords: Website Optimizer.

Give Google access to blocked site pages and intranets: Site Search.
Give Google access to corporate data: Enterprise Search Solutions.
Give Google access to your bright ideas and schedules: Google Apps.
Make Google necessary to your customer direction: Geospatial Solutions.

Give your print publications to Google: Book Search.
Give your thoughts and ideas to Google: Base.
.........................................................................................................
Why you are asking? :)

#3 Ron Carnell

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 03:48 PM

Darn, I must be doing something wrong. Google has been nothing but good for both me and my web sites. Sure beats the heck out of the days of Alta Vista and Doubleday.

#4 EGOL

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 04:46 PM

Darn, I must be doing something wrong. Google has been nothing but good for both me and my web sites. Sure beats the heck out of the days of Alta Vista and Doubleday.

Amen. I don't know what I would do with out them.

#5 AbleReach

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 04:59 PM

Any commercial venture will sometimes sprinkle a little beef extract on their French fries.

The frequency and intent are what makes crummy pr into doing Evil.
Beef extract for personal gain, initially hidden from vegetarian consumers = Evil
Beef extract for flavor = may be yummy (though I don't eat beef - to each their own)

Just a thought I had...

#6 Ruud

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 05:13 PM

So far what I've seen is the potential for being or doing evil -- but on the whole I must say Google is doing pretty darn good.

Given Google's scale I'm amazed at how well they do.

#7 projectphp

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 06:23 PM

Besides, it wasn't "make no mistakes". HuddleChat is a good example of that. I personally see no issue with it, except they took an easy idea someone makes money off and made it free. But even then, having uncovered a "mistake", they fixed it.

#8 eKstreme

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 03:04 AM

There is a difference between Google that sends traffic to websites (what webmasters see) and Google that consumers use (their collection of apps).

I think the former Google is excellent: good algo, nice cleanly-laid our SERPs, excellent snippet generation, good spam filtering, etc. All in all, it gives any webmaster willing to invest a chance to compete with everyone else. Also, it helps them compete with the crappily-laid out SERPs of Yahoo! and the sub-par algo of Live.com.

The consumer-facing Google is what's troubling me. They're spear-heading the charge into a privacy invading world. Let's take an example: credit card companies know everything we buy, when we buy it, and where we buy it from. We exchange this form of private information in return for convenience: plastic is much easier to transport (and safer!) than cash. However, the minute CC companies start targeting us with advertising mailings ("hey you just bought a car that has leather seats - get this shampoo for to keep them clean"), everyone would roar and leave. The balance has been maintained because CC companies have not done that historically.

The analogy with Google and other ad networks and search engines is clear. The difference is that Google et al are starting to show signs of privacy invasion: my search history is kept for 18 months for no real technical or otherwise good reason apart from trending for better advert targeting. Their handling of Google accounts, and the way they are changing with time (have you noticed how sometimes you stay logged in Google the SE if you logged into AdSense? This is a few months old.), and other bits and pieces. All these paint a picture that whether we like it or not, our privacy is going to be controlled by the whims of big companies, and Google is leading the pack.

And then Google set its own measure by stating that they "don't do evil". It was a marketing success early on when they were the underdog and they kept with it as they grew. Now they're trying to abandon it because it seems it's starting to affect their movements. This speaks volumes about the managerial mindset.

Call me whatever you want, but I'm worried about where this aspect of the net is going.

Pierre

#9 EGOL

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 07:29 AM

If google offers these services for free and they tell us that information about our habits is going to be recorded then it is up to the user to decide if he/she wants that free service. I think that the worst that a person can think of a company like that is that they ask us to pay for the service with information about our habits. It is not evil, it is a trade that we voluntarily enter into.

#10 Ron Carnell

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 07:33 AM

However, the minute CC companies start targeting us with advertising mailings ("hey you just bought a car that has leather seats - get this shampoo for to keep them clean"), everyone would roar and leave.

Would they, Pierre? Why? Why should people be more afraid of targeted advertising than random spam? Especially if -- heaven forbid -- they actually did want to keep their leather seats spotless? Is it your contention, then, that advertising is evil? And making the advertising better is more evil?

Privacy, I think, is a funny thing. If you run through the streets naked, you can't be too terribly surprised when pictures start surfacing in the local media. The publishers and photographers are just trying to make a buck, after all, and streakers still sell papers. Don't like the pictures? Stop getting naked in public.

All levity aside, Pierre, I fully recognize that power can and often is abused in this world. It's something we should definitely take seriously. I just haven't seen any indication Google has been abusing its power. I think the culture that permeates the company, a culture largely built on the foundation of its now famous slogan, is one of the more responsible ones in this age. In a time when most corporations don't even give passing lip service to social responsibility, Google has made it a pillar of their culture. I like that.

But like I said before, Google has been pretty good to me. I'm probably a little biased?

#11 eKstreme

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:15 AM

they ask us to pay for the service with information about our habits

I think this is where we disagree. I think the communication out of Google aimed at the consumer is lacking - almost non-existent. You and me and the rest of the search industry are aware of this transaction (info for free use) and we make our choices. 99% of Google's users are not aware of that.

Suppose Google inserts a sentence or something at the top of every SERP saying "This search may be recorded for quality purposes", exactly what you get when you phone up a tech support helpline. Would consumers mind? I think some would and some won't. But the intentions of the company are clear. Without this information, I disagree strongly that this is a transaction people are entering into voluntarily.

Hiding like this implies they're hiding from scrutiny, which doesn't make me trust them - they use the word evil, I use it back at them. There is nothing religious about my experience of any search engine.

And let say this again, as I don't think it gets said enough: Google is the pack leader and set its own standard of non-evilness and therefore gets the biggest flak. The fact we know less about the other SEs doesn't make them better (holier?) than Google.

Privacy, I think, is a funny thing.... Don't like the pictures? Stop getting naked in public.

Is searching in the privacy of your home using the services of a publicly listed company a public activity? Is flipping through a catalogue (the service of a publicly listed company) at home a public activity? I would argue both are not - they're private. As such, you cannot compare them to running around naked on the street, which is most definitely a public activity.

I just haven't seen any indication Google has been abusing its power.

I think tracking for the sake of tracking is abusing power. I have to see any well-controlled experiment that shows that behavioural tracking increases to more valuable ads. Give me data to believe.

Facebook seems to be best positioned to exploit any such data, but I haven't heard anything that they're doing exceptionally well because of this. Google itself complained in the annual report in January (or was it their quarterly report) that their MySpace deal is not paying off as much as they hoped it would.

The one thing that comes close, but isn't personal behaviour tracking, is the "similar search" like you see on Amazon and elsewhere. It goes along the lines of "people who bought this book also bought..." and that's based off large-scale statistical analysis to give a recommendation.

Pierre

#12 Ruud

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:30 AM

Perhaps the temptation to abuse their power/information is also tied to the source of their power ... which is that very information.

It's essential for Google to keep its hands clean. The day a story would leak that an employee has been digging up dirt on his ex-wife and used that dirt... that is the day Google starts to be be (more) regulated... and it's the last thing Google wants.

And of course there are dangers: just look at China in regard to Yahoo and Google and political arrests.

But the last time I looked the largest threat to privacy and citizens' rights wasn't coming from Google; it's coming from elected officials who have the power to tap into anything you do online.

#13 Ron Carnell

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 08:52 AM

Is searching in the privacy of your home using the services of a publicly listed company a public activity?

The similarity between your example and running butt naked through the streets, Pierre, is that each is necessarily limited to the participants involved. If you have a buddy standing over your shoulder during your example search, do you still expect to maintain absolute privacy?

My point, of course, remains the same. If you don't want your buddy (or Google) to know what you're doing, don't involve them as participants.

I think tracking for the sake of tracking is abusing power.


Then we should all turn off our Apache logs? How about here in the forums? Should the posts not include a username any more? "Tracking" covers a whole lot of ground.

I will certainly agree that no one should be tracked without their knowledge and agreement. I honestly can't believe, however, that anyone is naďve enough to think no one ever records their searches on the Internet. Even without flagrant warnings, how many people don't know their ISP records every site they visit? How many are unaware their phone company tracks every number they call? Don't they watch Law & Order?! :D

When you tell a secret to a friend, you expect that friend to keep your secret. I don't think it's reasonable to expect him to forget it, though.

It's very difficult for any of us to go through life without "tracking" other people. We do it on our web sites, we do it here in the forums, we do it at work and at play. Tracking isn't an abuse of power in and of itself. What is done with the information might be, but that's another whole race altogether, I think.

#14 eKstreme

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 11:50 AM

If you have a buddy standing over your shoulder during your example search, do you still expect to maintain absolute privacy?

Good example! I've asked people to turn away while I type passwords. I instinctively turn away when people are typing passwords or entering their PIN at the ATM. As for search, I've never been in this situation, but imagine I suspect I have some disease or ailment that I don't wish to make public. Would I search for info on it while others are around? No! If a friend and I are discussing something and a net search would yield important info for our discussion, I would bring my laptop to them and start searching.

I think this thread has helped me articulate something that I didn't know I had decided deep down (thanks for all the good minds who've contributed - it's your fault ;) ): sharing of personal data is not inherently bad as my CC example and as Ron's Apache logs example show. BUT, for the sharing to take place in a trusted environment, I think two conditions must be met for me, Pierre, to be happy:

1. There needs to be a reason why the tracking and sharing is taking place. The reason needs to be good and have tangible positive effects. Example, CC company tracks my usage, but that's because I want to see an itemized bill. Would you trust your bill if it weren't itemized? I suspect not.

2. The fact that tracking and/or sharing is/are taking place needs to be clearly communicated, and also full details of what is being tracked and for what purpose need to be clear. Google fails miserably on that in that they do not tell you that they're tracking you unless you dive into their site.

Case in point: can you find the privacy policy on Google's site? It's in the footer of their About Google page. On Yahoo!, it's on every page, including the home page, albeit in the footer. Interestingly, Yahoo!'s privacy policy link gets colored red - which stands out even in the footer - when the policy changes.

Again, it's the mindset from which Google seems to be operating on that's worrying. There is no evidence to date that their kind of tracking actually produces a better search experience (however defined) or better ads (higher CTR and higher conversions). Heck, even on Google Apps - where one would store documents and spreadsheets that could be very personal - the privacy policy link is buried at the very bottom of their Program Policies page. Clearly they value the legal side of things more than privacy.

It doesn't build trust that the consumer has to jump through hoops to find out that what Google is doing when others are a little bit more accessible.

And here is another question: Ruud and others have rightly pointed out that to date there has been no serious breach of privacy. My question is that do we know what kind of safeguards are there to prevent a breach? We also don't know the full set of data points they're tracking, so can we honestly assess the potential for damage if a breach occurs?

This goes for all players, not just Google.

Pierre

#15 iamlost

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 02:01 PM

Google the search engine became Google the ad server to monetise the SE. Both the search and the ad programs benefit a broad range of the web population with minimal side effects.

However, in the name of search, as articulated in "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful", they are increasingly acting as if that information, wherever it might be, is theirs by right.

Each new service is designed to acquire some new aspect of the world's information. Other people's information. When there is an outcry, i.e. print book publishers, Google not only acts 'hurt' but attempts to make their opponents look 'bad'.

Our service is 'free', you can 'opt-out', are the most clarion of their excuses for scraping and monetising others copyright. And they are quite correct. Which is why I am very careful which Google services I use and how I use them. Caveat emptor.

Along with acquiring other people's information comes acquiring their privacy. This is not only who they are and where they live, but who they talk to and what they say, where they shop and what they buy, plus credit, health, employment evaluations, ad nauseum. All this data gets scoooped up, deliberately or not, and sits available for use.

I have not seen an egregious example of Google misusing information, however, several potentials exist for, like weapons systems, once built they will be used: once acquired information will be used. It becomes a matter of how: to personalise Google services for broader deeper more frequent conversions? to sell/lease bits and pieces to others? to add to paranoid government data banks and enemies lists? stolen by crackers for use and misuse?

Information does not carry a source tag. If Google (or any data bank/mining operation) supplied info to others how would we know - unless told. And it would be in their best interests that silence prevail.

My greatest complaint, and this is not just aimed at Google, is that there is no method to know what information they hold about me and no mechanism to identify and correct faulty data or false inferences.

It takes one to two years to recover from a phishing identy theft attack - and it still leaves bits of tar and feathers stuck to your records here and there.

Is Google evil?
Not at the moment, so far as I know.
Are there structures, either internal or external, in place to prevent Google from becoming evil?
No. And that is a problem.

#16 Respree

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Posted 16 April 2008 - 05:26 PM

I would say that if you don't like or trust a company, do not use their products or services.

We all have free will, yes?

Its a marketing tagline.

I sometimes eat at a place who's tagline is "The World's Best Pastrami."

It isn't, but still, pretty tasty. They treat me nice, charge me a fair price and pile it on high. I won't hold the little 'white lie' against them.

#17 bobbb

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 11:14 AM

We all have free will, yes?

Even that is being questioned?:( http://www.wired.com...4/mind_decision

"The World's Best Pastrami."

If we had to boycott everyone that used the word best or number 1, we would not buy too much. Would you buy "The world's most mediocre pastrami." :)

#18 CelesteK

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 01:54 PM

I hate that when I go to the grocery store I HAVE to have one of those little cards to get the "sales".

#19 iamlost

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 02:05 PM

...I HAVE to have one of those little cards...

They KNOW you haven't been eating your veggies...;)

#20 Respree

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 02:10 PM

I sort of resent my grocery story tracking my purchases, but look at the money I save when I use the card and tend to be pretty forgiving.

#21 CelesteK

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 07:09 PM

Dont you remember the days when the "sales" were there to lure you into the store? Now its only a benefit if you allow your privacy to be invaded. I think Ekstreme has a real point here.

#22 SEOigloo

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Posted 17 April 2008 - 08:03 PM

But the last time I looked the largest threat to privacy and citizens' rights wasn't coming from Google; it's coming from elected officials who have the power to tap into anything you do online.


I agree with many points being made here on all sides, and I can't help thinking we're dealing with an argument similar to 'guns aren't evil, it's loaded guns being shot at people that are evil'.

In other words, it isn't so much the tool, it's how the tool is used that is the problem.

I don't like the idea of my data being collected, but if it just sat in a box somewhere, it's not terribly threatening. It's what people could do with that information that scares me. And, history says that humans have yet to get it right that just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do it. Just look at the A-bomb.

So, I guess the worst I'd say about Google, at this point, is that they are potentially facilitating evil, but I feel the same way about TV sets. It's what's on them that is either a positive or negative factor in the development of human society.

This is surely the most interesting conversation going on here right now.
Miriam



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